superstorm sandy and my human soul
I haven’t posted in over a year. Here goes nothing.
The cautious language of science be damned. Screw the distracting rhetoric of the right denying climate change. I’m weary of the clutter of it all.
Superstorm Sandy, 1,000 miles wide and tearing its way through the heart of our 21st century empire, is speaking to us, elegantly and simply.
In the midst of predictions of billions of dollars of economic damage, YouTube videos of cars being carried away in the East Village, phone calls to loved ones watching the lights go out, there is a quietly ferocious message: This, this is climate change. This is consequence. This is wilderness seeking its rightful, physical, frightening due.
I do not care what the politicos say. I do not care what the climate scientists entreat about certainty and attribution. I do not care about comparisons to similar superstorms of the past. Speak not to me of natural cycles. Tell me nothing of doubt.
This tempest is no coincidence, its intensity born not of ‘natural causes’, but anthropogenic ones. Humanity – beautiful, beloved Homo sapiens sapiens – we have lived so well – beyond our wildest dreams! – as animals on this planet. We have gazed so far, colonized every corner of earth, become a global force rivaling the very tides and tectonic plates. Some of us know great, unimaginable material comfort and environmental control.
And yet, we are, at the last, terrestrial heterotrophs, mammals vulnerable to dramatic changes to our habitat. We cannot escape the iron fingers of ecological fate. Climate change is not a political issue. It is not an environmental issue. It is, as we’ve seen in New York City tonight, a question of basic survival. Frame it as economic, frame it as geochemical, frame it as epidemiological. Whatever narrative makes it real, brings it into your gut, drives forward the urgent meaning. With our own hands, we have worn away the walls of our home through unintentionally destructive micromotions over hundreds of years, and we wonder why the rain is coming in.
I quite honestly and exhaustedly have no message of hope here. It feels un-American. Sandy is, in poetics and reality, my worst nightmare, emblematic of warnings I have spent years stumbling into in my studies at Yale & Brown, researching in the Amazon of Ecuador, contemplating in the High Sierra, laboring to prevent in my daily work in renewables. Dreading, ruefully predicting, feeling crazy all the while.
Tonight, the coastal building where I worked in my first job out of college – teaching marine ecology to students of all ages – is flooded two stories high. My brother, a medical resident in the Bronx, is stuck in his hospital, unable to get home to the love of his life as the storm grows more powerful. My grandmother is seeing 25-feet high waves out of her window on Lake Michigan, nearly 800 miles away from Sandy’s center.
All the pages read, all the careful measurements reviewed, all the well-reasoned arguments for the patterns and pulse of climate change are rushing, like lines of a script come bone-chillingly alive, onto the stage of my one human life.
And here is the center, the silent eye of the storm that drives my cyclone: I love this world so deeply. I care so ardently for my family, my friends, and, though it sounds trite, for all of my fellow human folk trying to get through each day breathing, laughing, crying, racing to meet our mammalian needs and our sentient emotional ones.
We have not ‘worn our walls thin’ through malice. We have done it out of a certain constitutional myopia. It makes the onrush of the storm surge all the more heartbreaking. And the darkening of one of our most brilliant, glittering cities all the more terrifying. The most lethal force is one that creeps in without a sound, that syncs with the hum of business-as-usual.
I have no answers, no solutions, other than this: Tell your mother you love her as often as you can. And hold your children tight. Seek beauty. Live with intention. And, finally, take nothing for granted.